Salt & Light
Many years ago when I was in graduate seminary, there was a very wise man who taught us psychology and counseling. His name was Dr. Saverio Laudadio. He held by a certain principle that he tried to pass along to those of us studying for the priesthood: If you want to be happy, stop worrying and fussing about being happy and get along to the task of being fulfilled: serve your community, deepen your understanding through reading and study, and above all do the work of the Church. First do something that fulfills you and happiness will take care of itself; will flow from such pursuits.
Happiness is a byproduct of fulfillment. So don’t concentrate so much on being happy as much as seeking a life that fulfills you by becoming engaged in service to the world around you— a truly wise principle to live by.
This same principle can be applied to the spiritual life as well. Do you want to be holy? Stop fussing so much about your holiness and get going with the task of discipleship. Discipleship requires that you learn to pray, read and study to deepen your understanding, and above all, perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Discipleship is all about announcing, proclaiming and evangelizing, taking care of the poor, and doing what Christ calls you to do. In so doing, we become holy behind our own backs. Holiness tends to take care of itself because it is a product of God’s grace. The divine life of God works within us and transforms us as we live out the gospel message.
You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world; you are a city set on a mountain.
Salt, light, and a city…what do we notice about these three things? They all exist for the good of something outside of themselves. Salt—what does salt do?—it was added to meat to preserve it in Jesus time; it was and is added to enhance the flavor of food. With regard to the Church, we are not meant to fuss about ourselves, but rather we, as Church, are meant to spice up the world and to preserve what is good and right and true in the world. Like salt, we exist for the good of what exists outside of the Church.
What else can salt be used for? Salt melts ice. It makes things flow that are frozen. The Church’s task, by being followers of Christ, is to loosen up a world that is frozen in its own self-regard and in its violent ways. We are meant to have this melting influence on the world around us that it might flow in the direction of Christ and the kingdom of heaven.
Another way that salt was used in the ancient world was to salt the ground of a conquered nation so that nothing would grow in their fields again. And so, salt has a destructive power. Are we, as Christians meant to destroy certain things in the world? Yes—we are to be a force against all manifestations of sin, all the ways in which human life is violated and discounted, all forms of hatred and violence, we are meant to interrupt them and get in their way.
We too are light! Light illumines, not itself but those objects on which it shines. So the Church’s purpose is not to look at itself, but to cast light on the world. Light allows people to see and to move; it allows them to make their way. That is why Jesus said: I am the light of the world; by His light people see what to do and where to go. We, the Church, are meant to participate in His light; to illumine the paths of the world.
Light shines in dark places and illumines what is going on in them. Salt is meant to interrupt and kill off certain things; and so light is meant to be shined into dark corners where hatred dwells, where violence festers, where old animosities and jealousies are still alive. The Church’s job is to shed light where things need to be exposed for the good of the world.
Lastly, Jesus says we are a city set on a mountain. In this we are meant to be a point of navigation. A city set upon a mountain, bright and shining, we are meant to be a guide to all who can see it. The world is guided to the safe harbor of the kingdom of heaven by remaining focused on the Church, a city set on a mountain.
But keep in mind, the Church is not raised up on the mountain to aggrandize itself and think of itself as great, to increase its own power, rather it is meant to be visible so that the world can see it and know it and guide their lives by it.
And now, here’s the devastating thing about this gospel; we must listen to it carefully. What if the salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? It becomes good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Light hidden under a bushel basket serves no purpose at all. What happens to us, the Church, when we lose our saltiness; when we put our light under a bushel basket? We lose our whole purpose. Once we lose saltiness, we lose our distinctiveness, our spicy particularity, our slightly annoying uniqueness. When the Church simply blends in with the world, it no longer helps the world. I repeat: when the Church simply blends in with world, it no longer helps the world and loses its mission to the world. Once we look like everybody else and sound like everybody else; have all the same opinions and ideas as everybody else, then we are no longer what Christ intended us to be. Then, who needs us?
The Church must hold on to its saltiness or it preserves nothing; it spices up nothing; it challenges no one, and upsets no one. Then we have failed as a Church. If we allow the din of public opinion, cultural and social dissolution to dim or put out our light, then we have failed as Church. We’ve put our light under a bushel basket. Then, we become as dark as everybody else. We become as unfocused as everybody else. We become a vague echo of the secular culture around us. We are meant to look and sound differently. If we are not, then we as Church have failed. My brothers and sisters be salty, be light, be that city upon the mountain for the good of the world!!!